The Engadine Valley is enjoying a resurgence among the bright young things and there’s no better place to stay than the Carlton St Moritz
Words Catherine Hales
‘When the snow falls she’s found in St Moritz, with the others of the jet set, where she sips her Napoleon brandy, but never gets her lips wet,’ croons Peter Sarsdedt in the sixties classic ‘Where do you go to my lovely’. The jet set may have been superseded by the private jet set but the song was right about the glamour of St Moritz – and by the way say Saint not San. It is still the destination chosen by the beautiful people and is in fact enjoying a new burst of popularity among London’s jeunesse doree, whose mothers were only babies when Brigitte Bardot was married to Gunther Sachs. The German-born industrialist, photographer and sportsman fell in love with the place and his exclusive clubs helped make a small village in the Engadine Valley the place to be. The British love affair with St Moritz goes back even further than the 1960s, to the early days of winter sports. It is home to the Cresta Run, a private tobogganing club, where men (and it is only men except for the last day of the season) hurl themselves down a terrifyingly steep ice track on a ‘skeleton’, hardly more than a tin tray, round legendary bends like Shuttlecock, at up to 80 miles per hour. While the more cosmopolitan members wear modern techno kit, some more traditional Brits can still be seen in tweeds. Toboggans are very much part of the St Moritz experience and while the Cresta is a private club both bobsleighing and sledging can be organized. Slide all the way down to Celerina, the next village, and come back up by train.
Not having access to a jet, private or otherwise, I arrived by train but, far from being a let down, this is a memorable experience in itself. Clean and punctual, Swiss trains are the eighth wonder of the world and the steep, narrow-gage line, dating from 1903, which carries the Glacier Express actually climbs through a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, under 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges. On the platform at St Moritz I am met by a smiling liveried chauffeur, who grabs my bag and whisks me up to the Carlton Hotel, which is on the mountainside above the station, with a view to the lake – frozen so hard in winter that they have polo and horse racing there as well as a gourmet food festival.
I have very happy memories of a small family-run hotel in Switzerland, where I stayed as a teenager, and nothing was ever too much trouble. The Swiss just understand how to do hotels and although the Carlton is a far grander place it has many of the same virtues just scaled up. It is welcoming and the service is personal, friendly and somehow totally reassuring. It was built in 1913 but has been comprehensively updated, with all the facilities of a contemporary luxury hotel without losing any of its atmosphere. The 60 rooms are all suites with lake views. It closes in summer which allows everything to be maintained immaculately and the focus to be fully on being the best for winter. It has all been thought through. Ski passes are magicked up. The ski room in the basement not only covers every requirement and the very nice staff patiently allow you to try on as many boots as you like, but seamlessly connects you with the shuttle bus which will run you to the lift and bring you back whenever you wish. No struggling along carrying your own skis – perish the thought.
There are two major ski areas, Corviglia and Corvatsch, and neither is overcrowded. St Moritz has so much to offer the non-skier that mere skiing is sometimes overlooked but it is in fact a great area, with a variety of runs, open sunny bowls and good lifts, plus the famously intoxicating ‘champagne air’ of the Engadine Valley. It has hosted the winter Olympics in the past and in February 2017 the World Championships will be held there.
If the weather closes in or you are just feeling the need for pampering there is a seductive spa at the Carlton, with a huge range of specialized treatments. But well aware that long spa menus can be a pesky first-world problem they recommend the signature offering, which combines five elements: facial massage, reflexology, lymphatic, hot stone and aromatherapy. The 75-minute massage is delivered in a light and spacious room, tranquilly but wittily designed by the Italian architect Carlo Rampazzi, who is responsible for revamping the hotel, in sea blues and greens, with arresting decorative detail, a break from the beige so often thought to promote relaxation in spas. Robertina, the therapist, was very professional and left me feeling revived.
A short walk from the hotel into the centre of the village takes you to Via Serlas, the Rodeo Drive or Bond Street of St Moritz. Cartier, Harry Winston, Bulgari, Gucci, Prada all have flagship stores or try Trois Pommes for Jil Sander and Tod and many other international fashion labels under one roof. More tempting in many ways and laid out as beautifully as the jewellery are the cakes and sweets in Café Hansellmann, the village’s fabled tea shop. The sight of tiny chic women with even tinier dogs and enormous fur coats tucking into pastries is not to be missed.
However it would be silly to go too mad over tea as the Carlton prides itself on its food, both Swiss and more local Engadine specialities, including wines, at Romanoff, the large, high-ceilinged main dining room, where they also do glorious breakfasts you can linger over. On the floor below is Da Vittorio, their fine-dining restaurant. It is an offshoot of chefs Roberto and Enrico Cerea’s three-star Da Vittorio in Brusaporto and itself has one very well deserved Michelin star. Try the tasting menu.
There is plenty of nightlife in St Moritz and the ever-helpful concierge can of course recommend and organize things but there is a spacious and relaxed bar just outside Romanoff, with an open fire. The temptation to remain wrapped in the Carlton cocoon and perhaps sipping Napoleon brandy, like the girl in the song, is hard to resist. I am afraid my answer to ‘Where do you go to my lovely?’ is to bed for a blissful night’s sleep.
Carlton Hotel St. Moritz has rooms available from €900 per night, based on two adults sharing a Junior Suite on a B&B basis, including CHF 100 food & beverage credit per adult per day, service charge and VAT. For further information and reservations, please visit carlton-stmoritz.ch or telephone +41 81 836 70 00.